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How I Failed My Students in the Flipped Classroom

May 13, 2019

This post is a bit different from more recent posts that focus on ways to make a thriving flipped classroom.  Instead of 5 ways to start or tools of the trade, this post is a bit more personal and vulnerable.  I appreciate your grace when you read this, but even though I'm a bit more vulnerable, I feel impelled to share it so that we can all be a bit more transparent about our experiences in the classroom and, more importantly, so that you have some takeaways for your flipped classroom.  So here we go.

First let me start by giving some context around the word "failed" when I say How I "Failed" my students in the flipped classroom. I do not mean that I gave them a failing grade for the course.  What I mean is how I, as their teacher, did not have a great year in the flipped classroom; how I let me students down because I, frankly, got lazy.  

Now, my students don't know the difference in how I was this year in comparison to past years' performances, and, I would bet most of them would disagree if I shared this blog post title with them.  But, nonetheless, I'm doing some reflecting on the year, and I have some things to share that I think other flipping teachers can learn from.

Fail #1: If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

I didn't listen to this wise advice - I tried fixing something that wasn't broken.  For YEARS - ever since I started flipping, I had a FANTASTIC binder system.  Let me give you a quick run down of it.

My students would rotate homework assignments each night between doing one set of video notes and one reading guide.  They would bring their homework in to class, and as they did their bell ringer, I would circulate the room stamping the top right corner of their homework and any class work from the day before.  This put my eyes on EVERY SINGLE set of notes, and allowed me to have quick conversations with students about staying up to date on their work without giving me piles of grading.  It was beautiful.  Then at the end of the unit, I would count stamps for a binder grade.  Voila!

Well, for some reason last summer, I decided that wasn't good enough.  To be honest, I kind of got tired of checking binders (even though it's super fast, and super effective), and I wanted to try a little gamification.

So instead I purchased a game board template on TpT, customized it for my class for each unit and used that system.  That system really was great, but it required some sort of incentive outside of grades.... and I did not have an incentive big enough to be a true motivator to students who weren't already intrinsically motivated.  Which leads me to Fail #2...

Fail #2: Don't start something you're not ready to finish.

This new system I created really was great.  It had built in differentiation (I'll have to talk more in depth in another post) that allowed students who needed it to remediate their performance on quizzes, and likewise allowed students who showed mastery to extend their knowledge all while requiring very little of me - it was a well oiled machine.

But I didn't think past the system, I didn't think (enough - because I did think about and plan quite a bit, just not enough) for the motivator behind it all.  For centuries (I think), the grade has served as the dominating motivator in schools.  I don't agree with that system - I believe grades should indicate student's mastery of the content, not how well they accomplish homework.  If the homework helps them to master the content, then they should do it. But if they can master the content without doing the homework, well, that's great - all students (and adults for that matter) wish they could function and learn that way.

I didn't have the resources available to have a great incentive for this gamification piece... better said, I didn't have the experience or understanding of what could serve as an incentive.  There are so many great ideas out there to work for incentives in the classroom, and I didn't do my homework to find one (or a few) that worked for my class.

Fail #3: Trust your well made plans.

This is related to the first fail, but not entirely the same.  My more specific fail here is that because I got lazy and didn't want to check binders anymore, compounded by the fact that the awesome game board system was a wash without a motivating incentive, I ended up NOT looking at every single set of notes my students took.

This is the biggest NO-NO in flipping.  Now, I know teachers who don't look at their student's notes saying that if they want to do well in the class they have to take the notes, but for me personally that's not going to fly.  I know my students in the subjects I teach- they are not super niched down, meaning most students don't want to go into history or psychology as a career, they just want to either get through the class or take it because it will help their GPA.  So, with most of my students, I know that if given an inch, they'll take a mile.

I knew this - cue smacking of head - I made great plans long ago that would have still worked if I just stuck with them.  I should have used that system that didn't require tons of grading, but still got my eyes on every students' notes, allowing me to have those quick but effective conversations with individual students who either weren't holding up their end of the deal or weren't fully understanding specific topics.

Fail #4: Plan with the end in mind.

I've been teaching my flipped course, AP Psychology, for ten years.  That's ten years of getting to know the content, and creating and tweaking content to be just the way I like it. That includes tests.  I know my tests inside and out, but that's because EVERY YEAR I printed a copy for myself at the beginning of the unit, went through the test myself and marked where students would get tripped up and what we needed to really focus on in order to do well.

This year, overconfidence got the best of me.  Let me preface this - my students have still done very well in my class, and I know they will do well on our AP Exam this week, however I know that when I am more proactive in looking forward, so are my students.  Likewise, when I am more reflective, I share that with my students, and they are more reflective as well.

Because I didn't stick to this habit that truly informed my class on a daily basis, my students were then a bit less metacognitive - understanding their understanding.  They weren't as equipped to see how what we did in class, what we talked about in notes, and what direct instruction (yes, I still do that sometimes in my flipped classroom) I gave applied to their test, and therefore didn't see the important connections as well.

Let's shift a bit, because so far this sounds very self-deprecating and not very positive, which is NOT me at all.  However, I am very reflective.  It's important that everyone in education be self-reflective (of what we can control).  So let's talk about the lessons I've learned from this year that you can benefit from no matter where you are in your flipping (or just straight teaching) journey.

Look at these as potential pitfalls to avoid in the flipped classroom...

1. The Curse of Knowledge

After you've flipped in the first year, you've made most if not all of your videos.  Then the next year you don't have to make those notes - meaning you don't have to lecture your students.  If you know your content well, it's totally fine because you remember the videos and the particulars of each one and can use that knowledge in the classroom.  However, after year three, four, or more years removed from making your videos, your memory of what you said in the notes, what examples you use, what you dive deep on and what you DON'T dive deep on tends to fade.  That impacts your understanding of your class, that impacts your awareness of what your students need to know.

My recommendation here is one of two things - remake your videos every three to five years OR watch your own videos (every year or at least every other year).  Neither of these are easy, but they really are a must.  I remade my videos every three years because I understood the material better, I was more confident, and I knew the software I used to make videos better, and all three of those were portrayed in my video remakes, which is a win for my students.  But not all of us have that time, nor is it totally necessary - find what works for you.

2. Be reflective and trust your gut.

You know your students.  You know your building.  I hope that I am helping you marry that knowledge with an understanding of the flipped classroom.  Be truly reflective on how this flipping thing is going to work in your classroom, and trust your gut.  

Identify WHY you are flipping - that may be two or three reasons.  Then as you plan you flipped classroom system, prioritize those whys.  Also know, It is not required that you put ALL the work on yourself.  For instance, I don't grade all notes - I put a binder system in place that allowed me to see them all, but not collect and grade them.

3. Remember that flipping is still teaching.

You know all the pedagogically sound, best practices of teaching - they are shoved down your throat in college, and hopefully reinforced by great colleagues once you get your first teaching gig, and finally are rehashed every so often throughout your career through social media inspo and various forms of professional development.  

Those best practices are no different in the flipped classroom - hold on to your foundation.  Don't second guess it just because you are flipping.  You know what you're doing, just put it through the lense of cloning yourself via flipped videos :)


As you are reflecting on this school year and making plans for next school year, I hope that this transparent post about my mistakes starts some internal conversations for you around where you could have done better.  However, don't beat yourself up. Just going through this process of reflecting is what makes you a great teacher for your students, so don't look back with regret, look back so that you can move forward with intention.

If you are looking for more advice on how to get the ball really rolling on flipping your classroom, be sure to check out my Ultimate Starter Kit for the flipped classroom workbook here.

Last thing, comment!  Let me know what you are reflecting on right now for your plans for next year and how you can make it all more effective and intentional.  Also, let me know if you're flipping and where you are in the process - I would love to help.

Until next time,

 Blog Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash


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